Donna struggled with substance addiction from the beginning. Family hurt and an abusive relationship followed. Her high-school-aged daughter was diagnosed with a rare disease and passed away. Watch Donna’s story as she shares how she made it through and kept up hope despite it all.
Read the transcript of the video here:
Donna: He started hitting me in the kitchen. I was stuck between the refrigerator and the stove. He was kicking so hard in my ribs. Now my ribs have cracked. When I was thirteen, my parents got a divorce. I was lost, took my first hit of methamphetamines. Bookworm Donna was gone, and this monster just arose. I had gotten pregnant at seventeen, had my daughter at twenty-one. I had my son, got into a very abusive relationship. My son’s father just said, “You know, I’m gonna kill you.” And we stay together. I’m gonna end this because I just can’t keep hurting you.
I left, and I went into recovery. I ended up finishing my year program and just got super involved in ministry. My daughter Terisa started getting little scab sores on her skin, so we took her to a dermatologist. They called it T-cell lymphoma, which is a cancer, and the T-cells right underneath your skin. I was really hopeful that that’s all it would ever be.
Her lesions started to grow. They would look like gunshot wounds, and some of them you could see down to her bone. Her oncologist found a trial chemo, and those three treatments put her into remission, where she was able to graduate high school, and not too long after that, she started getting really sick. At that time, I quit my job, and I had a three month waiting period where I didn’t have any insurance. My insurance did kick in, but it was completely different.
It was so hard transferring hospitals. It just took so much time, and she was spiraling. They sent us for one last PET scan. She was just like, “Mom, this is gonna be the PET scan that tells us everything we never wanted to hear.” We got the results of those PET scans back. This has now turned into non-Hodgkins lymphoma and is spreading rapidly through her body. I had to go into the room and ask my daughter, who was in and out of coherency, if she would rather be cremated or buried, and she giggled, and she said cremated, for sure. Yes, okay. She said, “Mom, I’m still going to fight it.”
She had her high school sweetheart. Josh got in a motorcycle accident. He left his hospital, rolled into her room on his wheelchair, threw his wheelchair out the door, and he never left her side. He picked her up. He unplugged her. He took her to the restroom. He put her back on the bed. He took care of her. She was having a really hard time breathing, and the lung specialist kept telling me, “Let’s put her on the ventilator,” and I was like, “No, she’s just scared. She’s just having panic attacks.” And I walked out those doors that night, and I went to sleep, and my phone rang at about two or three in the morning. “Donna, you need to get here. Your daughter’s not breathing.”
When that code blue was called Josh and the nurses stood outside Terisa’s room in a circle praying for her for thirty minutes. In that thirty minutes, she suffered a stroke. She was now on life support. She would basically just remain brain-dead. We took her off life support. God took her home. We walked out of the hospital, just kind of in shock. I never talked about it with my son for a long time. That was just a really big hurt living in our house. The following August, my seventeen-year-old overdosed, but God knew him and I were both not ready for that, and so through that, God brought us closer.
I didn’t have the option to stop working because I was a single mom, and I didn’t have the option to lay down in my bed and pull the covers over me and give up because my son would have seen that. For about a year, I just worked. I started just getting really angry. I thought people would know that I was retreating back to the hospital. I thought people would know that all I could hear was a heart monitor in my life. I thought people would be able to read that, but they don’t. It’s like people don’t know. But God is always here, and he knows every single moment. He knows your heart through it all. He was inside of you. He was listening to you. Once that clicked in me, I was just released. And so, a huge part of my grieving process began taking time alone with God and just crying until I felt God hold me.
I started getting a heart to minister to others in this area. I took it to my corps officers, and I said, “You know, what do you think if we kind of put this grief class together. I’d like to start sharing,” and they were supportive about it. But, as I was getting ready to teach these classes and going over the lessons, I just felt the urge of the holy spirit telling me, “I need you to look at that death certificate.” The first cause of death, second cause of death. The first one, of course, is mentioned her cancer. But, underneath that one is a big fancy word for lack of oxygen, and I realized I’d been carrying this guilt about not letting that one specialist put her on the ventilator the night before she coded.
I can’t live in that unforgiveness because it will drive me to bad places. I’ve had to choose to let all of that go. Each time I go to start a new grieve class, there’s always a different level of things that I see that the Lord wants me to continue to release to him. I told God, “Don’t you put anybody else in my life that I’m going to have to love new. I’m done. I’m not gonna ever start a new love. I’m good.” Two years later, I met my husband, and then I meet his children, and then we have Brawley, and then the love I have for my older son is so new. I want people to know you don’t have to stay stuck in your grief. You can trust God with your life. You can trust God with your loved one. You can trust God that he is going to be with you even when you’re breaking. God saw his son on the cross, and for three hours, God turned away in dark grief, and he couldn’t look at what was happening to his son, and just like me, God saw his son take his last breath. I was broken, but I never felt without hope. I never felt betrayed, and I never felt him leave my side. Nobody’s ever gonna know what you went through. God was there, and God knows, and you’re never gonna be alone in that.
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